Thursday, February 13, 2014

analytical summary: Frodeman and Mitcham’s “New Directions in Interdisciplinarity: Broad, Deep, and Critical”

A stark contrast from Hackett's piece, Robert Frodeman and Carl Mitcham's “New Directions in Interdisciplinarity: Broad, Deep, and Critical” tries to reclaim the term interdisciplinary "beyond the academy" (p. 506). They call for a complete re-thinking of the term and its meaning.

To a degree, the authors seek to point out why there is a need for this change in thinking. The reasons include "the complexity of many problems--from social anomie to climate change" (p. 507) as well as new technologies demanding different manners of thinking (i.e., surfing). Moreover, there is an overabundance of Ph.D.s (with some of us, apparently, ending up as cab drivers (p. 507)).

At the heart of their critique, though, is the idea that "Disciplines produce expertise" (p. 506) but that this expertise isn't relevant. They write: "the knowledge society is increasingly characterized by a disconnect between knowledge production and knowledge utilization" (p. 507). Though they critique the academy, they also tie knowledge to a value in the world outside of it. They draw a line between the academy in isolation (embodied by disciplines) and one that provides useable knowledge on social problems.

Their solution is interdisciplinary as "critical interdisciplinary" that is "a broad knowledge that possesses it own type of depth" (p. 515). It is a knowledge that connects knowledge with public, private, and community organizations.

There are a few issues with their piece, however. The first, is a question of what this actually looks like. While this is a challenging question given that they are trying to push boundaries, the actual execution of these ideas is important. An ideal can morph upon execution, with the product looking far from the original intent.

Second, there is a question of how this version of interdisciplinary will resist the trends of disciplines in becoming too narrowly focused. The authors might answer that the connection to the world outside the academy will prevent this. Though the outside world might keep the focus from being too narrow, patterns of thought also are endemic to any organized group, whether a discipline or not. If they are trying to push beyond these boundaries for creative, new thinking, there might be a time when this stalls out. Additionally, as we see in Hackett's work, if the outside world is no longer interested then that area might disappear entirely. Leaving knowledge to the whims and questions of the world does not lend itself to significant stability.

1. Is this model for interdisciplinary feasible and realistic? Is the novel approach still important in isolation from execution?
2. Should the private sector, public sector, and community groups decide the validity of an area of study? What are the benefits and disadvantages?

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